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Self-Defense Options for Unimaginable and Unforeseeable Emergencies

Self-Defense Options for Unimaginable and Unforeseeable Emergencies


By Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University

This is the second of two articles on disaster preparedness.

“There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep.” ~Wayne Kyle, father of deceased U.S. Army sniper Chris Kyle, from the film “American Sniper”.

Planning for a worst-case scenario is never pleasant. We are very fortunate that in America, most of us live without having to resort to violence to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Those of us who have served in law enforcement, the armed forces or in other fields where we must confront violence know that violence is a reality.

Today, the terrorist threat has added a new dimension to the need for self-protection and the skills necessary to effectively select, maintain and use weapons when needed. But lethal force is always the last option.

Allowing yourself or your family to encounter evil without having prepared for it is an untenable position that could easily end in tragedy. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid that destructive scenario.

A Word about Self-Defense Training

The right to bear firearms for self-defense is guaranteed to all Americans by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With this right, however, comes great responsibility.

Firearms are tools. To honor and appreciate our right to bear arms, we must learn how to properly select and employ firearms under appropriate laws. These laws vary greatly from one state to another or even from one municipality to another.

Be sure to adhere to all applicable laws, rules and regulations when you purchase a firearm for self-defense. It is important to be intimately familiar with all firearm laws, rules and regulations at the federal, state and local levels because these laws vary widely across the nation. You might also wish to consult with a local attorney who is well-versed in criminal law. Keep the attorney’s contact information readily available if you are forced to use a firearm in self-defense.

If you are not familiar with firearms, you will need proper training before putting that weapon to use in a self-defense role. Many local ranges and shooting facilities all over the U.S. offer quality training. For those with an interest in premier training facilities, I recommend Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona; the American Smalls Arms Academy in Onalaska, Washington; and Thunder Ranch in Lakeview, Oregon.

Selecting a Firearm for Self-Defense Is a Personal Issue

There is a good deal of literature available about firearms and their various calibers for self-defense. There are three general categories of firearms: rifles, shotguns and handguns.

There are also sub-categories for each type of weapon:

  • Rifles: semi-automatic, lever-action and bolt-action
  • Shotguns: single-shot, pump-action and semi-automatic
  • Handguns: revolver and semi-automatic

Handguns and rifles come in a variety of sizes measured by calibers, while shotgun sizes are generally measured in gauges. All are effective deterrents against crime.

Common rifle calibers are the 5.56 millimeter (mm), the 7.62×39 mm and the .308 Winchester. The .22 Long Rifle (LR) is best for hunting small game and can be used for self-defense, but it is by no means the best weapon for that situation. Nevertheless, everyone’s survival weapons cache should include a .22LR because of its versatility.

Common handgun calibers include the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), the 9 mm Luger, the .40 Smith & Wesson and the .45 ACP. The three common shotgun sizes are the 12-gauge, 20-gauge and .410-gauge.

Remember, the skill of the shooter is more important than the caliber or gauge of the weapon.

Be Aware of Where You Might Have to Use Your Weapon

When you decide to purchase a self-defense firearm, know where you would be most likely to have to use it. For example, the three rifle calibers are all highly effective for self-defense, but they can easily penetrate doors and walls in homes and apartments and endanger other residents. However, the penetrative effect of firearms can be lessened by special ammunition or other materials.

It is definitely wise to consult an expert on firearms and their power before you purchase any weapon. If you live in a rural environment or have a retreat in the woods, then any of these three weapons is suitable as long as you take suitable precautions to ensure their safe handling.

Be sure to always keep your firearms in a locked safe or other secure container and utilize a trigger lock on all weapons. Today’s technology gives you the option to keep your firearms secure and ready to use.

You should also be familiar with the safety systems on your firearms. Remember, a firearm must always be pointed in a safe direction and your finger should never be on the trigger unless you intend to fire the weapon.

Shotguns Can Also Be Effective Self-Defense Weapons

Despite what some gun enthusiasts say, any of the three shotgun gauges used in urban or suburban settings can penetrate common building materials such as wooden interior doors or drywall. Shotgun shells typically contain small pellets of varying sizes that create a larger impact area than a rifle or handgun bullet.

This means there is an increased danger of striking something or someone other than the intended target. If you decide to select a shotgun for self-defense, you should consult an expert who can assist you in selecting the type of shotgun most suitable to your needs.

The selection of an appropriate handgun is critical, because not all readily available handgun cartridges produce hydrostatic shock when they strike a target at speeds of 2,000 feet per second or more. Hydrostatic shock exponentially increases what experts commonly refer to as “stopping power.”

Know Your Firearms

As with any tool, you need competent instruction on the use, handling, maintenance and storage of your firearms. Modern firearms are robust in design and durability; they require regular maintenance to remain ready to fire when you need them.

It is often said that when the time comes to use a firearm, it will be unexpected. In a self-defense situation, there is little time to remember where the ammunition is located, how to load the weapon or clear a misfire. When a firearm is typically needed, it is for a few seconds to a few minutes.

The Best Self-Defense Weapon: Your Mind

No matter what tools you ultimately select when you are in harm’s way, your greatest tool is your mind. Mentally plan for various “what if?” scenarios and work out response drills. You must always try to avoid actual life-threatening situations that would require the use of a firearm.

But if you must resort to a firearm, act decisively and quickly. Do not be a sheep and succumb to a victim mentality. If you view yourself as a victim, you may well become one.

About the Author

Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. He holds a B.A. in law enforcement from Marshall University, an M.A. in military history from Vermont College of Norwich University and a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in criminal justice from Northcentral University. Jeffrey is also a published author, a former New York deputy sheriff and a retired Army Captain, having served over 20 years in the U.S. Army.

American Military University


  1. Great Article Jeffrey! I work in payroll at APUS and just recently took a Basic Handgun II (Self Defense Basics) class at my husbands gun range and we talked about a lot of these points. I’m planning on practicing more and taking it again actually. If anyone in the Charles Town area wants information on these classes, I’d be happy to help! Valley Guns II in Inwood and Valley Guns Firearms Training Center in Bloomery (West Virginia for both) offer tons of classes including handgun, shotgun, and AR on all levels!


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